The ‘Harriet’ unveiling honours phenomenal fundraising effort

Last night saw the official unveiling of the ‘Harriet’ portrait at a civic ceremony at Shetland Museum and Archives (Sunday 29 January) by renowned portrait artist Stuart Pearson Wright, as he presented his painting at the museum in front of invited guests.

The portrait was created last year by artist Stuart Pearson Wright for the BBC’s ‘Extraordinary Portraits’ television programme in recognition of Harriet Middleton’s incredible fundraising efforts for the Shetland MRI scanner appeal. Harriet led a community knitting programme in 2019 and set up the MRI Maakers group. There was worldwide interest in Harriet’s Hat, a Fair Isle design she created herself, and patterns for this, together with other knitted items were sold and auctioned online to a global audience. Realising the importance of early diagnosis and the need for a scanner, the group of at least 62 MRI Maakers, some of whom worked from home, The Fernlea Care Home in Whalsay and those who used to meet regularly at the Gilbert Bain Hospital with their combined efforts raised well in excess of £100,000 for the appeal.

The event was attended by Harriet and her family, members of the MRI Maakers group and other supporters of the campaign, NHS Shetland Chief Executive, Michael Dickson and SIC Councillor John Fraser.

Lifelong knitter, Harriet Middleton said: “It was such a surprise and honour to have been invited to sit for an official portrait and, once I got over the initial shock, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to travel down to London to meet with Stuart for the television programme, and then welcome him to Shetland so that he could understand the sense of place and my background and begin work on the painting. The outcome is tremendous and I appreciate how he has captured my passion for Shetland’s knitting heritage. I view the painting as a wonderful tribute to all those in the MRI Maakers group, and beyond, who made the fundraising appeal such a success.”

Stuart Pearson Wright added: “I am usually reluctant to appear in television programmes about portrait painting. In the past I’ve found that the process of being filmed whilst trying to make a painting gets in the way of the process and usually ends up with a bad piece of painting. However, when I was approached by the producers of Extraordinary Portraits (Chatterbox) I was bowled over by Harriet’s story - and the chance to travel to the Shetland Islands to meet her, was one I couldn’t turn down. Harriet and I got on very well both during our sitting, and also during the unveiling of the portrait in London, but my trip to Shetland was all too brief (less than 48 hours). It had been my hope to find an opportunity to return to the island. Then as I pondered what would become of the painting itself I remembered something that Harriet had said about her grandchildren being able to learn about her story through the portrait and I decided that I ought to donate the painting to the museum in Lerwick for future generations to be inspired by Harriet’s story. So, it’s a great pleasure to be back in Shetland, this time with my own family.”

NHS Shetland Chief Executive Michael Dickson said: “We are thrilled that Harriet Middleton and her Maakers group has been honoured in such a fitting way. Harriet led the group to raise a phenomenal amount of money towards the procurement of an MRI scanner for Shetland in what was a truly astounding community wide fundraising appeal. Being able to access MRI scans here in Shetland will be of benefit for people, and will reduce the need for them to travel off island at a time when they are not well.”

John Fraser, SIC councillor honoured “a local hero” and thanked Harriet and her family for having the vision to start an appeal for Shetland’s MRI scanner.

The painting will form part of the Shetland Museum’s permanent collection and will be on display to the public in the coming weeks.

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